Nicaragua has a developing economy and lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure.
U.S. citizens must have a passport, an onward or return ticket, and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. Passports must be valid for six months beyond the duration of the visit. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card valid for 90 days must be purchased upon arrival. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. Visitors remaining more than 90 days must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico.
There are frequent accounts of robberies, kidnappings and extortion committed by armed criminal groups, particularly in remote areas in the northern/central departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Esteli and Boaco. These actions are primarily directed at local residents. However, travel in these areas is discouraged. Travelers should be aware of the risks involved and travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically in urban areas. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.
Boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica persist, particularly in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries, and on the San Juan River along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters.
U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast have resulted in a number of deaths by drowning. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua’s Pacific waters are urged to exercise extreme caution.
Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights make use of small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. In the last three years, there have been two incidents of hijacking of commuter flights departing from these airports.
When traveling to Honduras by road, the presence of land mines poses a danger to travelers venturing off the main roads in certain rural areas of northern Nicaragua.
Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Armed and unarmed robberies occur on crowded buses and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries, carjackings and gang activity are rising in Managua. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is particularly prevalent in poorer neighborhoods. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists occur at stoplights. Motorists are advised to travel with their windows closed and car doors locked.
Travel to Honduras on other than principal highways with border crossings at Guasale, El Espino and Las Manos is potentially hazardous because of criminal elements operating in parts of northern Nicaragua.
Medical care is limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: None
Road travel after dark is hazardous in all areas of the country. Nicaraguan roads are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Many roads were severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998. Because not all of the damage has been repaired, detours are common. Oxcarts, horses, abandoned vehicles or vehicles that lack front or rear lights are frequently encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua.
Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic) until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident. Nicaraguan law requires that motorists suspected of driving while intoxicated be taken into custody.
In Nicaragua, any driver who is party to an accident where injuries are sustained will be taken into custody, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The detention lasts until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until the injured party signs a waiver relieving the driver of further liability (usually as the result of a cash settlement).
Specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance is available from the Government of Nicaragua via the Internet at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni.
The Nicaraguan economy is primarily cash-based. Though many restaurants and hotels now accept credit cards, especially in Managua, acceptance is not as widespread as in the U.S. Travelers checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). There are few automatic teller machines, particularly outside Managua. English is not widely spoken.
U.S. citizens living in or visiting Nicaragua are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Managua and obtain updated information on travel and security in Nicaragua. The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 41/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505)266-6010; after hours telephone (505)266-6038; Consular Section fax (505)266-9943; web page at http://usembassy.state.gov/posts/nu1/wwwhmf.html.
In the wake of several incidents involving La Costena, one of Nicaragua’s two local air carriers, the U.S. Embassy has advised its personnel to avoid traveling on La Costena. U.S. citizens planning travel within Nicaragua may wish to consider possible transportation alternatives.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua's civil aviation authority as Category 3 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Nicaragua's air carrier operations. Flights to the U.S. by Nicaragua's air carriers are not permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by a carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.htm. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) does not permit its personnel to use carriers from Category 3 countries for official business. For information regarding DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at (618) 229-4801.